Review: NATYS Top Of The Bill Final 2017, Leicester Square Theatre

Is there an imminent shortage of traditional stand-up comedians? For a while it looked that way at the annual NATYS Top Of The Bill Final. This is a competition that regular throws up the occasional variety curveball, but this year’s bill was positively peppered with quirky peformers.

First up was sketch duo The Monks. It is never easy going first in a competition and, although they did have a topical gag about one of them having difficulties getting to the theatre, they started off very slowly, chatting too much and not being very funny. They only did one sketch, but it was actually a rather good one. When they introduced themselves as Christians I expected something squeaky clean but instead they came up with a pretty edgy ISIS beheading skit. There was a bit of promise there but not really enough to trouble the judges.

Second act Yeah Man also had issues getting started. This new comedian, real name Josh Robertson, suffered brain damage in a quad bike accident as a child and had a problem holding onto the mic. But with the aid of a helper and the crowd supporting him he started to build up a bit of belated momentum. His material was not particularly striking, a mix of self-deprecating gags, one-liners and a knock knock joke with a twist, but he clearly had a cheeky charm. 

Eilean Harris came onstage and immediately upended expectations explaining that because she is Jamaican people expect her to be loud and extrovert but she is quiet and soft-spoken. Not always though. She also used a more cliched shouty voice to add drama to her date-gone-wrong story. The delivery was more memorable than the material but she did feel that she had something distinctive in a world of identikit comics.

Claire Lenahan was shouty but the twist here was that she was a magician with attitude. It might have helped if she had been a magician with better sight lines. For her first trick she jumped into the audience which meant that the crowd at the back could not see what was going on. She fared better with some audience participation when she pulled someone onstage. She did a fairly cheesy old school card trick but pepped it up with some patter about splitting up with her imaginary boyfriend. It helped that her sporting “victim” lent a hand to Lenahan. If she had won a prize they should have shared it.

Roland Saunders was the real oddball of the night, an impressionist who did not do impressions. Instead he pulled costumes and wigs out of a prop box and lip-synched to pre-recorded famous voices. Full marks for starting with Trump - even if the joke wasn’t great it was good to see someone address current issues, albeit wearing a pair of tights at the time. Boris Johnson, Theresa May and many others followed in quick succession. It was more silly than fiercely satirical but it won Saunders second place.

Arielle Souma has personality to burn and an engaging French accent, if only she had the material to back it up. She was a commanding presence onstage as she talked angrily about man troubles. Her ideas of the difference between what women want and what men want did not feel all that hold-the-front-page but every now and again a line would jump out and suggest that there is more potential here. 

Last up in the first half was one of those genius-or-madmen moments. Michael Clarke started off by miming to Chumbawumba’s Tubthumbing, taking a swig from various bottles every time the lines “he drinks a vodka drink, he drinks a lager drink” came up. Fans of Jeremy Lion might recall a more sedate version of this. The gag was that he could never find the time between the lyrics to actually tell a gag. Clarke finished by explaining that he wasn’t a comedian but a performance artist and a riff about Felt (yes, felt) certainly lacked humour. There was something potentially interesting as well as entertaining going on here but after a strong start he lost focus. But then if he had been drinking real alcohol that’s not surprising. 

Picture by Olivia Harris

Review continues here.

Hello! Thanks for reading all the way down. I wish I could give you a prize. But BTJ needs your support to continue - if you would like to help to keep the site going, please consider donating.

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.